Thoughts on EBBC 2014 in Dublin

This year’s European Beer Bloggers Conference is coming to Dublin – good.

I mean that. It’s great that one of Europe’s up-and-coming beer cities has drawn in an increasingly popular and high profile (well, on my Twitter feed, at least) event. I’m proud of what my adopted home city has to offer in terms of a beer scene, so naturally I was delighted that EBBC 2014 is coming to town.

However, I’ve had a bit of a look at what’s on the menu for this two-day event. It turns out that rather than being the local-beer-talent-boosting event I hoped for, what we’ll be seeing in late June will be a good auld bit of corporate back-slapping and knacker-tickling.

Rather than whinging indiscriminately for pages and pages, I’ll make my gripes about this event brief:

Main Event Sponsor One:

Diageo. 

“Hosts Guinness & Smithwicks are delighted to welcome the European Beer Bloggers Conference to St James’s Gate in Dublin for an evening of beer discovery, tasting and dinner. Here you will uncover the craft of making the Iconic Irish Stout, Guinness and Superior Irish Ale, Smithwicks.”

Ah, those lovely lads and lasses at the bastion of quality Irish brewing are hosting the beer lovers.

The same lovely lads and lasses who pay to do this:

Picture kindly taken from @whiskeyireland after last year's Arthur's Day

Picture kindly taken from @whiskeyireland after last year’s Arthur’s Day

Every year on their Marketing Orgasm Day (sorry, Arthur’s Day) when they literally decide to kill off the independent competition.

Main Event Sponsor Two:

Molson Coors.

Now, these Canadian monoliths do have some kind of place at the Irish Beer Table (whether we like it or not) after having purchased Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery back at the end of 2012.

However, the fact that the “Beer Dinner’ they’re providing on the second night doesn’t just focus on their Irish beer portfolio (which is, to be fair, pretty good), but instead includes both Sharps (UK) and Blue Moon (errm?!) rankles with me a bit.

Bringing people to Ireland, a country with a blossoming but tiny beer scene, and giving them imported gear purely to promote the parent brand (Molson Coors’ wonderfully named “Craft Collection”) seems, well, shitty.

I understand that events like these require sponsorship, but how much bloody sponsorship in all fairness? Attendees each pay around a hundred quid, which surely must go some way to renting out an area of a bar (that, for the record, does pretty economical room rental) for a couple of days.

There will doubtlessly be highlights: a pub tour with Reuben, the actual content (hopefully), and an afterparty hosted by true Irish indie brewing stalwarts, Carlow. I’m looking forward to getting Europe’s bloggers across to see what Dublin’s all about; but, unfortunately, the above reasons mean I’m not going to be in attendance.

 

 

Posted in Beer Chat | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Two Hundred Fathoms: More Magnificence from Galway Bay

There’s one truly on-form brewery in Ireland at this moment in time. That brewery is Galway Bay.

The gang over on the West coast upgraded their brewing facilities a few months back and they’re really starting to reap the rewards of their substantial investment. As well as significantly upgrading the recipes of their core range of brews (Full Sail, Bay Ale, and Stormy Port) they’ve perfected a seasonal milk chocolate stout (Buried at Sea) and released a legitimately show-stopping Double IPA in the form of the much lauded Of Foam and Fury.

What else does a small/medium sized Irish brewer need to do, you may ask? They’ve already reached heights that many other players in the market could only dream of (both in terms of genuine quality and public perception). You’d not begrudge the Galway Bay lads a bit of consolidation time – now would be a decent point to indulge in a good bit of laurel-resting – but no. Far from it. In fact, they’ve only gone and upped their bloody game once again…

Two Hundred Fathoms Imperial Stout

200 Fathoms

Irish brewers have knocked out a few half-decent Imperial-ish stouts over the past year or so, but nothing’s really hit it out of the park. Evidently, what was needed to bring home the bacon was a 10% ABV Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged wax-sealed Stout. Evidently.

200 Fathoms Label

Once you hack through a bit of wax and pop open the cap, Two Hundred Fathoms pours an oily black with a proper mocha head. Looks like a glass of chocolate mousse.

The aroma is full of chocolate, light roast coffee, and fruity whiskey notes (orange blossom and a touch of vanilla too). Yes, I know describing an aroma as ‘orange blossom’ is pretty far along the beer-wanker spectrum, but anyone who’s had orange blossom infused water will get what I’m harping on about.

Taste gives a good hit of dark chocolate and deep roasted malt, more perfumey whiskey notes come through, increasing peachy notes too. Some light vanilla from the barrel. Dark berries coming through to add some dark and fruity depth. There’s some light tobacco smoke and slightly burnt coffee character towards the finish. Just the right amount of malty chewiness. More wonderful fruity whiskey and oaked notes emerge as it warms. Man, this is good.

It’s so silkily smooth: nowhere near as brash and boozy as I expected. It’s pretty easy drinking to be fair, with the significant level of alcohol perfectly (nearly masterfully) integrated. Lingering dark chocolate (think along the lines of that fancy Valrhona hot chocolate that a few high-end cafés have started doing), coffee, and that semi-sweet perfumed orange blossom note carries on long into the aftertaste.

This is an excellent brew. Evidently the base imperial stout recipe is unbelievably good, but the whiskey barrel ageing has added some extra fruity depth rather than masking the subtleties of the brew with vanilla sweetness (often a byproduct of barrel ageing). In my humble opinion, Two Hundred Fathoms is up there in the same ballpark as some of the most legendary barrel aged imperial stouts in the world. And it’s made in Galway. Unbelievable.

This brew is, unfortunately, seriously limited. Only 800 bottles have been produced and they’re only available from the Cottage Group’s pubs (Against the Grain, Dark Horse, etc.) at the price of €7.50 per 50cl bottle. This is a bloody decent price. I’m going to buy as many as I can get my hands on…race you to the bar…

Posted in Beer Review | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blacks of Kinsale go, well, Black.

Blacks of Kinsale have come a long way since they burst on the scene mid-way through last year with their beautifully hoppy American pale ale.

They’ve got their own brewery now, they’ve undergone a (pretty damn cool) rebrand, and they’ve added another seriously solid brew to their beer range: a Black IPA.

Black IPA

New-world-hoppy dark ales have been getting pretty popular across the pond (both in the States and with UK beer drinkers) for some time. So, it’s no surprise that they’ve slowly been filtering into the Irish beerhead’s consciousness over the past few months. Needless to say, a style that marries sprucey (and often tropical) hop notes with chewy chocolate roastiness ticks plenty of boxes for many beer drinkers. It certainly does for me, put it that way.

This newest Blacks creation pours a charcoal colour with a thick mocha head. As soon as  your nose gets anywhere near the glass, you get a big smack of very green-smelling pine needles. There’s some juicy orange stuff happening and a bit of peppery spiciness. Close your eyes and you’d purely believe that you had a West Coast pale ale in your hand. There’s a touch of chocolate and coffee in the aroma that shows itself after a bit of swirling and warming up, just to remind you that there’s a good bit of dark stuff happening too.

The taste is incredibly well balanced. Loads of lovely orange, citrus, and slightly sweet pine representing the abundance of American hops while there’s some great dark chocolate, light ashy notes, and burnt coffee fighting for the malt corner. Fairly thin bodied, but plenty of juicy grapefruit, herbal notes, and roasted malt character come out towards the finish.

The surprising thing is that this creation only comes in at 5% ABV – it punches well above its weight. Really incredibly easy drinking, the closest thing to a session BIPA I’ve ever come across. You’ll pick this up in good beer offies for around the €3.50 mark for a 50cl bottle. Which, to be fair, is an utter bargain. Another cracker from Blacks of Kinsale and a very successful rebrand to boot.

Posted in Beer Review | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Birra Italiana, pet.

Lots of people don’t seem to realise what an incredible beer scene Italy has developed over the past few years.

Clearly, our Mediterranean cousins are best known for their vino prowess, but there’s a monstrous amount of high quality brewing happening and the beer world is slowly starting to take notice.

Ireland has been lucky to get an increasingly regular supply of top notch beer from serious and innovative Italian birrifici such as Brewfist and Birrifico del Ducato, but we’ve had to wait a good while to get our hands on some gear from the much-lauded Birra del Borgo.

These guys are located an hour’s drive northeast of Rome and have made a serious impression on the global beer scene since they began production in 2005, appearing at many high profile beer fests and notching up some interesting brewing collaborations along the way.

One of these collaborations has just hit the shelves and fridges of good beer joints in Ireland, and is well worth a look…

Birra del Borgo & Dogfish Head: My Antonia

The bottles look pretty damn decent too.

The bottles look pretty damn decent too.

There’s no doubting that Dogfish Head is a massive name in the world of brewing, so you’ve got to be doing something right to collaborate with them.

My Antonia is a 7.5% ABV hopped-up Imperial Pilsner – not normally my favourite style to be fair (it can often give off a cheap sweetcorny thing). This one, however, gives a purer hop kick than many New World IPAs.

It pours a light golden colour with a big white head – looks the business. There’s sweet tropical fruit on the aroma (think melon and passion fruit); definite sugary lemon sherbet notes on the nose too, with a bit of slightly-harsh booze and shortcake biscuit. The taste is led by sweet mango, melon and orange alongside some slightly more bitter citrus (more of that zingy lemon sherbet). Shortcake biscuit malt and a bit of slightly harsh booze in there that I definitely associate with Imperial Pilsners. Lingering bitter citrus and lightly grassy herbal notes fill the back of your throat for a good while. Yeah, this is the business.

Birra del Borgo: Re Ale

Image gratefully pinched from the brewery website

Image gratefully pinched from the brewery website

Also recently landed on Irish shores is Birra del Borgo’s take on an American Pale Ale: Re Ale.

Coming in at a pretty meaty 6.4% ABV, this beautifully designed little number pours a darkish copper colour, again with a big fluffy white head. These beers look great both in and out of the bottle. Nice bright pineapple and grapefruit on the nose, some sweet caramel, and earthy peppery notes too. There are great sweet fruits in the taste: pineapple and orange coming to the fore especially, with a hint of sweet apricot. Crunchy caramel and biscuit malt in there, giving a fairly thick backing to the bright hoppiness. Residual pepper, earthy herbs, sweet bready malts and grapefruit in the finish. This is definitely on the sweeter side of APAs, but there’s an incredibly moreish fruity hop character to it. You’d have a few of these.

These two will be found in the usual specialist beer retailers around the country, for around the €4 mark for a 33cl bottles (off-sales). Quite pricey, you may think. Well, Italian craft beer is notoriously expensive so we’re probably getting a pretty decent deal, to be fair. Both of these bottles were really fresh when I had them last week (less than 2 months old), so now’s the time to snap ‘em up. That cracking hop character won’t improve with age!

Posted in Beer Chat, Beer Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Golden Pints 2013

golden-pints

It’s been one hell of a year for beer in Ireland.

It’s been one hell of a year for beer in the UK.

Given that I’m a Brit abroad in sunny Dublin, it’s only fair that I include both Irish and British categories into this low-down of my beers (et al.) of 2013.

Ireland

This is the year that good beer has really started to kick off in Ireland. There’s a growing beer scene not just in the capital, but in many of the country’s other towns and cities. Irish folk are increasingly shunning the mainstream and getting a taste for decent brews (both local and international). And thank God for that. I can now get decent beer (indeed, a selection of decent beer) in a shedload of places in my adopted home of Dublin. It’s finally got to the point where there’s more new good beer than I can drink. Everyone’s a bloody winner. So here we go:

Best Irish Cask Beer

Never a good thing to start on a less-than-cheery note, but let’s get real. There’s nobody out there in Ireland doing consistently good cask ale. Plenty of brewers have released some really solid cask offerings this year, but there’s been nothing that’s really knocked it out of the park. In fairness, the breweries aren’t helped by the often piss-poor level of cellarmanship in the country, so that must be taken into account. The recent availability of wonderful British cask ales from the likes of Thornbridge, Kirkstall, and Purity have lit up the cask scene and piqued many people’s interest, so hopefully we’ll see an increase of truly great Irish cask ale in the New Year. That said, we’ve still got some very decent stuff hitting the handpumps; this is exemplified by my cask ale of the year: Metalman Pale Ale – always a delight. Bright, citrusy, sessionable. Solid.

Shout-out to Dungarvan Comeragh Challenger too – it’s the best bitter in the country (loads of great marmalade character) but I can’t help but feeling gipped paying a fiver (or more) for a 3.8% ABV throwing beer.

Best Irish Keg Beer

Here’s a category not lacking in quality or choice: keg ‘craft’ has kicked off this year. Yes, many have been, well, shite, but that’s par for the course anywhere in the world. There have been many gems though, so this is tough. Actually no it’s not.

Galway Bay Of Foam And Fury Double IPAYES, Ireland has a top notch DIPA. It’s brilliant. Totally surprised me. And no, I’m not just saying this cos my mug will be on the bottles in the New Year.

Galway Brewery Bottle Label

Big respect to other Irish hop-bringers this year: Eight Degrees Hurricane IPA ended up as a seriously well executed Citra-dominated IPA. Like a bucket of tropical fruit Starbursts. Crisp, fruity, glorious. The surprise package came in the form of County Offaly’s Bo Bristle American Brown Ale. Full of thick pine resin and huge sticky caramel. A brute. Brilliant stuff that I hope won’t remain as a ‘festival one-off’.

Best Irish Bottled Beer

 I’ll be honest, I don’t buy too much Irish bottled beer. But this year, I’ve bought a lot of the following brew. I’ve even bought a job-lot of it for the office beer fridge.

Brown Paper Bag Project Doxie – a Belgian-inspired blonde wheat ale packed full of orangey goodness from judicious use of Amarillo hops. Very lively in the bottle (be warned), but this is a really top notch and innovative piece of brewing from probably the most exciting brewer in the country.

BPBP Doxie

I’ll put a note in here expressing my hopes for 2014: that Eight Degrees get their bloody bottling line consistency issues sorted out. Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss nature of Cork’s finest’s bottles make me shy away from buying them. Even though the beers themselves are cracking.

Best Irish Brewery

The sheer quality and trend-bucking innovation of Dublin’s Brown Paper Bag Project gives them the crown, no doubt. Big kudos to Black’s of Kinsale too – they’ve burst onto the scene in a flurry of American-hop goodness. Very excited to see what 2014 holds for both of these (and the many other top quality brewers this country has at its disposal).

Best Irish Beer Bar

For tap selection, it’s got to be Against the Grain. The first to get their hands on most new releases of imports and local gear (and an increasingly fantastic range of house-brews from Galway Bay Brewery). Big shout out to Dorset Street’s W.J. Kavanagh’s too: if you want cask ale in Ireland, this has to be your first choice destination.

Best Overall Irish Beer

Galway Bay’s Of Foam And Fury. This beer has quite literally answered the prayers of every hop-loving beer drinker in the country.

United Kingdom

Best UK Cask Beer

Moor Beer Company Nor’Hop. This is what a session cask ale should be. Summer in a glass. And Autumn. And Winter. And Spring. So bloody juicy. Just glorious.

Best UK Keg Beer

Jesus. Where to start. Back in March I was absolutely blown away on a beer trip to Edinburgh by Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss. I’m no Gose expert, but I thought this was incredible – sea salt and lemon rind tartness giving one of the most refreshing bits of boozing I’ve done in a long time. Then again, Buxton’s Axe Edge IPA is a thing of beauty on keg. Either of those are more than welcome to the crown.

Best UK Bottled Beer

The Kernel Double Citra IPA. Was lucky enough to get a two week old batch of this pure HEAVENLY liquid. My top rated beer ever. It’s absolutely stunning. Enjoyed it much more than I did six day old Pliny earlier this year. And that’s saying something.

Massive shout-out to Thornbridge Halcyon. No need to ever even think about buying imported IPAs when this is in town.

Best UK Beer Bar 2013

Never thought I’d say this, but it’s in Devon. The Teign Cellars of Newton Abbot is a fantastic bastion of great beer in an otherwise deserted landscape. Always more than a dozen of the UK and Europe’s finest beer on keg and cask, shedloads of brilliant bottles (there’s a bottle shop in the basement), and some of the cheapest pricing out there. Kernel IPA variants for three and a bit quid a pint? Devon tourist board should include that in their pamphlets. Friendly crowd, good scotch eggs, great beer. Visiting the other half’s family has never tasted so damn good.

Miscellaneous “Best Of 2013s”

Best Overseas Beer

Rip Current In The Curl IIPA. The undoubted highlight of a couple of visits to California. This ties with Kernel’s Double Citra for the title of best Double IPA I’ve ever had. Clean biscuit malt, breathtaking peach, blood orange and grapefruit hop kick. Devastatingly enjoyable.

Best Imported Beer (Ireland)

Having Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus available less than ten minutes walk from my front door in Dublin makes me weep with joy. To Øl Dangerously Close To Stupid comes dangerously close to winning my affections for this category, as does the fresh batch of Stone Ruination that’s recently arrived on Irish shores.

Best Beer Blog

My good friend and beer-brain-extraordinaire, Aidan, writes a brilliant and criminally under-publicised blog called Brews International. Well worth a read.

Best Beer Retailer (Ireland)

Drinkstore of Stoneybatter. The best. Always has been. Selection and service are both sublime.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

@TheBeerNut is always good value for Irish beer happenings, as is @BeoirFinder for his banterful omnipresence. However, no one can beat the definitely-real @brouwervanklomp for cutting insight into the coal-face of the beer industry.

2013 has been a wonderful year for beer. But, you know what, I’m pretty sure 2014 will be even better. Merry Christmas to you all!

Posted in Beer Chat | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Dog, Old Tricks

BrewDog don’t normally do ‘old’.

But, after drinking two of their recent releases, maybe they should shun nu-skool more often.

BrewDog Old World India Pale Ale

BrewDog Old World IPA

 

This old chap comes comes in at 7.5% ABV and is hopped with only (often-seen-to-be-unfashionable) hop varieties.  It pours a murky orange with a decent white head. There’s lots of marmalade in the aroma – a nice sweet orange with some added earthy spiciness. Fairly muted in comparison to BD’s usual fare, but not bad at all. The taste is, well, pretty damn tasty: there’s a great balance between the caramel and shortcake malt profile and the earthy, orangey hops on show. Pithy grapefruit comes in towards the finish, adding a pretty dry bitterness. The finish is sweet and fairly herbal, with a bit of orange peel lingering too. An absolutely solid Brit-hopped IPA from BrewDog. Alright, it’s not as excitingly juicy as the lion’s share of their gear, but this would certainly tickle the fancy of even the staunchest anti-keg-ist of CAMRA members. If only this was available on cask, eh?!

BrewDog Old World Russian Imperial Stout

BrewDog Old World Russian Imperial Stout

This old maid comes in at 9.5% ABV. Big. It pours black with mahogany head, pretty viscous and oily. Lovely red and dark berries on the nose, with some light roast coffee, dark chocolate, and very light smokiness. Lots of juicy dark berries in the taste, loads of dark chocolate – really rich – decent malt roastiness, very lightly-roasted coffee beans. Juicy dark fruits in the finish, lightly ashy roasted malt and cocoa too. Pretty full bodied and silky. The big booze warmth is there, but well integrated. Chocolate and roasted malt in the aftertaste. Really lovely and warming. Big, viscous, delicious. What more do you want from an Imperial Stout?

Two very decent BrewDog exhibits, which show a lot of brewing nous without having to chuck in a shedload of New World hops (not that I object to that one bit!).

Both of these are available in Ireland now in beautifully-labelled 660ml bottles. The IPA will be around the €7.50 mark while the Imperial Stout comes in at closer to a tenner (both off-sales prices). There are worse beers out there to pimp-out the Christmas stash, believe you me. Good on you, BrewDog, keep it up.

Posted in Beer Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to Black

Antipodean Cork-based brewers, Eight Degrees, have been raising their (already pretty good) game recently. Their duo of IPAs, Cyclone and Hurricane, were met with intense delight by Irish beerheads upon their release at the end of the summer (they were both bloody good) and their core range remains solid.

This Christmas, Eight Degrees have shunned their usual spiced brew, A Winter’s Ale, and gone for something a bit more exciting. Three more somethings, in fact. What we’ve got now is a Winter Series of beers, called Back to Black, celebrating dark malts in three contrasting ways. There’s a Russian Imperial Stout of 9% ABV to be released in a week or so (yes, an RIS brewed in Ireland, not shitting you), but for the time being, we’ve got two impressive and pitch-black little numbers to keep us occupied…

Aztec Stout 

Aztec Stout

This 5.5% ABV stout has got plenty of gear added to it: Dark Chocolate? Check. Chipotle Chilis? Check. Vanilla? Check. Cocaine? Che- ah, just messing, lads.

It pours motor oil black, with zero head to speak of. Does actually look like motor oil. There’s a fairly muted aroma of dark chocolate and light vanilla whisping around: appealing, but reserved.

The taste is where it’s at though: it’s wonderfully deep and multilayered. There’s really beautiful creamy dark chocolate, almost-milky vanilla pod, lightly roasted coffee, fairly sweet coffee cake. And then the chilli comes in. Wow. Great little spicy zing to it, pretty smokey and a little herbal too. Gives such an excellent balance to the dark chocolate character. This chilli smokiness increases with each sip, lingering on the lips, tingling away. Spice, pepper, warming roasted malt and dark chocolate last for a fair while into the aftertaste. Man, this is really well put together. Great depth, well balanced, and not overly chilli-fied like these creations often can be. This particular bottle was a little flat, but let’s not split hairs: this is a lovely (and very Christmassy) bit of brewing.

Zeus Black IPA

Zeus Black IPA

Next up, we’ve got Ireland’s joint-first Black IPA (props to Blacks of Kinsale for theirs) at a very respectably beefy ABV: 7%. This little fella makes judicious use of one of the hops du jour: Australia’s Ella. And yes, you’re right, ‘hops du jour’ does sound really wankery when you read it back.

Zeus pours a pitch black colour with a big fluffy tan-brown head. The aroma gives plenty of sweet, dank papaya and tangerine, pine needles, grapefruit and a decent bit of peppery spice. There’s some burnt coffee hanging around too – like when you haven’t cleaned the espresso machine for a while. The taste is pretty hefty: lots of tropical fruit, burnt coffee, some tobacco, thick pine, big grapefruit, and thick roasted maltiness. It’s medium bodied with a good amount of carbonation lifting all that great hoppiness above the dark roasty malt stuff. There’s some really rough bitter fruits in the finish as well as some heavy smokey roasted malt bitterness. There’s a massive bite to it. Pretty uncompromising (it won’t suit those of you with a delicate palate), but it’s right up my street and very decent stuff.

Two more total successes from Mitchelstown’s finest. These guys are really reaching top gear at the moment, and it’s a pleasure to see. And even better to drink. These two brews are available in good offies for around the three quid mark for a 33cl bottle, and will be on tap (in very limited quantity) at the usual suspect good-beer bars around the country. Grab them while you can and get yourselves excited for the big-gun Imperial Stout to be unleashed very soon…

Posted in Beer Chat, Beer Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment